The five things you need to know on Friday December 14, 2015…
1) GETTING OUR BOJO BACK
No.10 is successfully promoting its plans to overhaul child social services today. But Eurosceptic Tory MPs are more focused on the EU summit later this week - and many of them are already convinced it will be a ‘sell out’ at worst and ‘thin gruel’ at best.
I was a bit puzzled by the Sunday papers given that David Cameron had last month publicly signalled in his Chatham House speech his retreat from the Tory manifesto pledge for a four-year ban on EU migrant benefits. Note the manifesto is crystal clear that ‘we will insist’ on the plan. It doesn’t say ‘we will insist, then wobble and then give up when Europe doesn't like it’.
On the front page of the Telegraph, Boris Johnson tries to be a rallying point for disgruntled backbenchers, backing a new plan to get Dave out of this particular hole. He calls for a Danish-style opt out from free movement rules (similar to Danes being allowed to ban non-residents from buying homes). The compromise plan – which could see welfare restrictions apply to returning British expats as well as EU migrants (as the Tel reported on Saturday) – is being examined by Brussels diplomats. No10 says it has not been formally tabled but could be discussed. Is Boris just getting his leg over a plan already hatched by Downing Street and claiming credit? Or is he pushing the envelope mischievously?
Few expect any breakthrough at the summit this week. But two other options seem to be still alive in the run up to the next summit in February. One is the ‘emergency brake’ idea to suspend free movement with a spike in migrant numbers. Switzerland is looking at something similar and one diplomat tells the FT “If we can construct something for the Swiss, we can do it for the British”. The other option is banning 18 year old Brits from in-work benefits for four years.
Eurosceps have already decided the PM’s renegotiation is a sideshow, however. Owen Paterson told SkyNews Cameron “is like someone in a little dinghy, bumping along, being towed along by the enormous great Channel ferry.” And Chris Hope in the Telegraph has a fascinating new line- that Eurosceps my take a leaf out of the book of Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum, with grassroots activists pressuring their MPs over Christmas to say they’ll back Brexit.
Steve Baker MP tells the paper: “This is a representative democracy and we all have a duty to listen to those whom they represent at all times. With so many colleagues having made Eurosceptic noises at their selection meetings their members will now expect them to reject a deal which is going to be a fundamentally the same as we had before.”
2) RED LETTER DAY
Jeremy Corbyn has been up early, addressing the postal workers at Mount Pleasant sorting office as part of the CWU’s national day of campaigning against Tory policies. Allies of the Labour leader have been busy hosing down reports that Ken Livingstone could be considered for a peerage (“total nonsense” is how one senior aide put it to me), while Diane Abbott herself dismissed claims that she was being lined up as the new Shadow Chief Whip (more likely is Jon Trickett, some are whispering).
Jim Naughtie yesterday used his Mail on Sunday column to suggest that Corbyn should appear on the Today prog more often. “Those who stay away (memo to Jeremy Corbyn) won’t gain from it in the end.” As it happens, it was on Today on the Wednesday of Labour conference that Corbyn was asked the big question about whether he’d personally authorised the use of nuclear weapons as PM.
The Sun picks up on the Sunday Tel story that James Schneider, the leading light in Momentum, went to public school (Winchester, just like Seumas Milne, so JC may not find that an obstacle) and his dad made a pile in the City. Nick Clegg popped up on Radio 4 yesterday to suggest Labour was being ‘self induglent’. I note that Simon Danczuk in his Mail on Sunday column raised the idea that the public were already seeing the PLP and the Corbynistas as two different parties.
Tonight, it’s the last PLP before the Christmas break. I wonder if Corbyn will cite the Daily Mail front page today in his last PMQs before Xmas: it points out the PM is in retreat not just on EU migrants, but on reckless bankers and on junk food.
3) COP THAT
Labour’s shadow Treasury and Education teams have done some digging in the wake of the Spending Review that suggests the old arts of Opposition are not dead. Rebecca Long-Bailey points out that while police force funding was protected by Osborne, non-force units like British Transport Police, Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary were not included. A written ministerial reply confirms the fact.
Given that the Leytonstone knife incident highlighted the role of BTP, the murder of Lee Rigby was outside a military barracks and that nukes are a target for terrorists, Labour says the news is ‘deeply alarming’. The Govt insists that such claims are groundless. (Speaking of security, the Telegraph says Cam will urge Nicola Sturgeon today to back his investigatory powers bill).
Meanwhile as schools prepare to break up for Christmas, Lucy Powell has some new figures that school spending on supply teachers has soared to £1.3bn – a rise of more than a quarter over two years – as heads try to plug gaps in recruitment crisis.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch these Chinese plain clothes security officers (sporting smiley faced badges) harass and manhandle the BBC’s China correspondent at the trial of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Bravo John Sudworth.
4) THE TEENIES
The vexed topic of votes for 16 and 17 year olds returns to the Lords today with a new amendment tabled by Baroness Morgan of Ely to get 15-year-olds registered for the EU referendum. Ministers are citing Electoral Commission claims that registering youngsters would cost £6m. Labour cites a letter from the chief executive of the association of electoral administrators, John Turner, in which he suggests the figure is more like £1.8m.
With votes due in the Lords and Commons this week - and pressure to get things sorted before the Commons rises on Thursday (don’t forget the Lords rises later, next Tuesday, so can dig in if it wants), I hear of one alternative mooted in Government circles to buy off opposition: an inquiry (not quite a ‘Royal Commission’ but similar) on lowering the voting age for referenda and other elections.
The Telegraph reveals that Andrew Lansley (who don’t forget used his first vote as a peer to back a cross-party move to lower the franchise age) is now on board with the Government. Baroness Anelay is making threatening noises to peers over the constitutional implications of all this ping pong. Labour points out that between 2007 and 2010 she as Shadow Chief Whip led 81 defeats of the Labour government, including one on a 2008 NICs Bill, complete with financial implications.
5) COOLER SHAKER
In his new BBC interview, the last British resident held at Guantanamo Bay has said he does not intend to take legal action against the UK government over his imprisonment. Shaker Aamer also reveals he was ‘hog tied’ an put under psychological pressure. He is asked repeatedly why he left Britain to go and live in Afghanistan under the Taliban and simply says ‘where is the evidence?’ when asked if he was an Al Qaeda operative. In an ITV interview, he says he was forced in Gitmo to drink sewage water. It makes the Great Escape's 'cooler' look like a picnic.
Aamer has already given his most eye-catching words to the Mail on Sunday (the Mail group pushed hard for his release), when he said Islamist extremists should "get the hell out" of the UK. He also claimed that a British intelligence official who allegedly witnessed his torture in Afghanistan by American soldiers flew there on the same RAF plane as Tony Blair.
Dominic Grieve, the new Intelligence and Security Committee chairman, told Today “we have material that should shed light on who knew what”. He said he hoped Aamer would appear before the ISC's inquiry.
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